In season-ending loss, Dennis Schröder steps forward as future face of franchise

Edit: In an earlier version of this article, I stated Jeff Teague will be a free agent this offseason. He has one year remaining on his contract.

With the season hanging in the balance, Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer only wanted one man commanding the offense on the floor, and it wasn’t Jeff Teague.

It was 22-year-old Dennis Schröder.

The rising star carved up the Cleveland Cavaliers’ defense on multiple occasions, slicing and dicing to the basket to score points on crucial possessions. In the 100-99 loss that eliminated the Hawks, Schröder scored 21 points and added six assists, three rebounds and two steals in 26 minutes.

(Also read: Devonta Freeman stops to help old lady with yard work)

Schröder played four more minutes than Teague, who started the game. His 21 points off the bench were just two shy of the entire Cleveland bench combined, but Schröder isn’t being molded into a bench player.

He’s going to be the star of this team for years.

The Hawks have some tough decisions ahead this offseason. Teague will be in the final year of his contract, but could be traded. Forward Kent Bazemore and center Al Horford will be unrestricted free agents. They’ll command huge contracts after the last two seasons because all three made huge contributions to the most successful two-year stretch in Atlanta Hawks history. In my humble opinion, Bazemore has shown tremendous growth this year, and the Hawks are likely to prioritize re-signing him. The other two may be gone.

Letting Teague go is much easier when you have a young guy like Schröder. Will he become the next Rajon Rondo? It’s impossible to know, but he has the potential to become a cornerstone of this franchise.

We know what we’re getting with Teague, and while he has been a key piece of this team for the last seven years, the 27-year-old isn’t likely to become a breakout star. He’s a nice starter who will occasionally carry a team when needed; Schröder has the chance to be far better.

What we saw Sunday evening wasn’t a fluke. Budenholzer put the keys in Schröder’s hand and allowed him to take drive – literally and figuratively – in one of the biggest moments of his early career. While Schröder ultimately didn’t lead the Hawks to a playoff victory, his failure can be blamed on LeBron James, the best player in the world, simply being better.

Let’s hope it was a learning experience, and Schröder saw the roadmap to his own eventual greatness Sunday night.

Photo: AP/John Bazemore

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